Charles James Lever.

The adventures of Arthur O'Leary online

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known name of aristocratic reputation in England : they
are thus, Villiers, or Paget, or Seymour, or Percy, which
on the Continent is already a kind of half nobility at
once ; and the question which seemingly needs no reply —
All, V0U8 el C8 parent de mi lord! is a receipt in full for rank
anywhere. men — and who that knows anything of the Con-
tinent has not met such everywhere ? — are the great riddles
of our century ; and I'd rather give a reward for their
secret than all the discoveries about perpetual motion, or



longitnde, or North-west Passages, that ever were heard
of; and strange it is, too, no one has ever blabbed. Some
have emerged from this misty state to inherit large fortunes
and live in the best style ; yet I have never heard tell of
a single man having turned king's evidence on his fellows.
And yet what a talent theirs must be, let any man confess
who has waited three posts for a remittance without any
tidings of its arrival ; think of the hundred and one petty
annoyances and ircnies to which he is subject : he fancies
that the very waiters know he is "a sec ; " that the land-
lord looks sour, and the landlady austere ; the very clerk
in the post-otiice appears to say " No letter for you, sir,"
with a gibing and impertinent tone. From that moment,
too, a dozen expensive tastes that he never dreamed of
before, enter his head : he wants to purchase a hack, or
give a dinner party, or bet at a racecourse, principally
because he has not got a sou in his pocket, and he is
afraid it may be guessed by others ; such is the fatal ten-
dency to strive or pretend to something, which has no
other value in our eyes than the effect it may have on our
acquaintances, regardless of what sacrifices it may demand
the exercise.

Forgive, I pray, this long digression, which although, I
hope, not without its advantages, should scarcely have been
entered into were it not apropos to myself: and to go
back — I began to feel excessively uncomfortable at the delay
of my money. My first care every morning was to repair
to the post-office ; sometimes I arrived before it was
open, and had to promenade up and down the gloomy
" E/ue de I'Evecque " till the clock struck ; sometimes the
mail would be late — a foreign mail is generally late when
the weather is peculiarly tine and the roads good — but
always the same answer came — " Rien pour vous, Mon-
sieur O'Leary ; " and at last I imagined from the waj"
the fellow spoke, that he had set the response to a tune,
and sang it.

Bei'anger has celebrated in one of his very prettiest
lyrics " How happy one is at twenty in a garret." 1 have
no doubt, for my part, that the vicinity of the slates and
the poverty of the apartment would have much contributed
to my peace of mind at the time I speak of. The fact of


a mfifrnificently furnislied snlon, a splendid dinner ever*
flav, ehanipayne and SeltztT in-oiniscuously, cab fares and
theatre tickets innumerable, being all scored against me,
were sad dampers to my liappiness ! and from being one of
the cheeriest and most light-hearted of fellows, 1 sank into
a state of fidgety and restless impatience, the nearest thing
1 ever remember to low spirits.

Such was 1 ono day when the post, which I had been
watching anxiously from mid-day, had not arrived at five
o'clock. Leaving word with the commissionaire, to wait
and report to me at the hotel, I turned back to the table
d'hote- By accident, the only guests were the count and
raadame ; there they were, as accurately dressed as ever ;
so handsome and so happy-looking ; so attached, too, in
their manner towards each other — that nice balance
between affection and courtesy, which before the world is
so captivating. Disturbed as were my thoughts, I could
not help feeling struck by their bright and pleasant looks.

" Ah, a family party ! " said the count, gaily, as I
entered, while madame bestowed on me one of her very
sweetest smiles.

The restraint of strangers removed, they spoke as if
I had been an old friend — chatting away about everything
and everybody, in a tone of frank and easy confidence
perfectly delightful ; occasionally deigning to ask if 1 did
not agree with them in their opinions, and seeming to
enjoy the little I ventured to say, with a pleasure I felt to
be most flattering.

The count's quiet and refined manner — the easy flow
of his conversation, replete as it was with information
and amusement, formed a most happy contrast with the
brilliant sparkle of madame's lively sallies ; for she seemed
rather disposed to indulge a vein of slight satire, but so
tempered with good feeling and kindliness withal, that
you would not for the world forego the pleasure it afforded.
Long — long before the dessert appeared, I ceased to think
of my letter or my money, and did not remember that
such things as bankers, agents, or stockbrokers were in
the universe. Apparently they had been great travellers ;
had seen every city in fjurof)e, and visited every court;
knew all the most distinguished people, and many of the


sovereif^iis intimately' ; and little stories of Metternicli,
bon mots of Talleyrand, anecdotes of Goethe and Chateau-
briand, seasoned the conversation with an interest, which,
to a young man like myself, was all-engrossing. Suddenly
the door opened, and the commissionaire c died out — " No
letter for Monsieur O'Leary." I suddenly became pale
and faint ; and though the count was too well bred to
take any direct notice of what he saw was caused by n]j
disappointment, he contrived adroitly to direct sonit
observation to madame, which relieved me from any
burden of the conversation.

" What hour did you order the carriage, Duischka '•! "
Baid he.

" At half-past six. The forest is so cool, that I like
to go slowly through it."

" That will give us ample time for a walk, too," said
he; "and if Monsieur O'Leary will join us, the pleasure
will be all the greater."

1 hesitated, and stammered out an apology about a head-
aclie, or something of the sort.

" The drive will be the best thing in the world for you,"
said madame ; " and the strawberries and cream of Boits-
fort will complete the cure."

"Yes, yes," said the count, as I shook my head, half-
sadly — " La comtesse is infallible as a doctor."

" And, like all the faculty, very angry when her skill is
called in question," said she.

" Go then, and find your shawd, madame," said he,
" and, meanwhile, monsieur and I will discuss our liqueur,
and be ready for you."

Madame smiled gaily, as if having carried her point,
and left the room.

The door was scarcely closed, when the count drew his
chair closer to mine, and, with a look of kindliness and
good nature I cannot convey, said, " I am going, Monsieur
O'Leary, to take a liberty — a very great liberty indeed —
with you, and perhaps you may not forgive it." He
paused for a minute or two, as if waiting some intimation
on my part. I merely muttered something intended to
espress my willingness to accept of what he hinted, and
he resumed. " You are a very young man ; 1 not a very


old, but a very experienced one. There are occasions in
life, in which such knowledge as I possess of the world
and its ways may be of great service. Now, without
for an instant obtruding myself on your confidence, or
inquiring into atl'airs which are strictly your own, I wish
to say, that my advice and counsel, if you need either,
are completely at your service. A few minutes ago I
perceived that you were distressed at hearing there was
no letter for you "

" 1 know not how to thank you," said I, " for such
kindness as this; and the best proof of my sincerity is, to
tell you the position in which I am placed."

" One word, first," added he, laying his hand gently
on my arm — "one word. Do you promise to accept of
my advice and assistance when you have revealed the
circumstances you allude to? If not, 1 beg I may not
hear it."

" Your advice I am most anxious for," said I, hastily,

" The other was an awkward word and I see that your
delicacy has taken the alarm. But come, it is spoken
now, and can't be recalled. I m«st have my way ; so
go on."

I seized his hand with enthusiasm, and shook it
heartily. " Yes," said I, " you shall have your way. I have
neither shame nor concealment before you." And then,
in as i'ew words as I could explain such tangled and
knotted webs as envelope all matters where legacies, and
lawyers, and settlements, and securities, and mortgages
enter, 1 put him in possession of the fact, that I had come
aljroad with the assurance from my man of business of a
handsome yearly income, to be increased, after a time, to
something very considerable ; that I was now two montbs
in expectation of remittances, which certain forms in
Chancery had delayed and deferred ; and that I watched
the post each day with an anxious heart for means to re-
lieve me from certain trifling debts I had incurred, and
enaVjle me to proceed on my journey.

The count listened with the most patient attention to
my story, only interfering once or twice, when some dif-
ficulty demanded explanation, and then sufiering me to
proceed to the end ; when, leisurely withdrawing a pocket-


boolv from the breast of his frock, he opened it slowly.
" My dear young friend," said lie, in a measured and
almost solemn tone, "every hour that a man is in debt, is
a year spent in slavery. Your creditor is your master ; it
matters not whether a kind or a severe one, the sense of
obHgation you incur saps the feeling of manly indepen-
dence which is the first charm of youth : and, believe me,
it is always through the rents in moral feeling that our
happiness oozes out quickest. Hei-e are five thousand
francs ; take as much more as you want. With a friend
— and I insist upon you believing me to be such — these
things have no character of obligation : you accommodate
me to-day ; I do the same for you to-morrow. And now,
.put these notes in your pocket. I see madame is waiting
for us."

For a second or two I felt so overpowered I could not
speak. The generous confidence and friendly interest of
one so thoroughly a stranger were too much for my aston-
ished and gratified mind. At last I recovered myself
enough to reply, and assuring my worthy friend that when
I spoke of my debts they were in reality merely trifling
ones, that I had still ample funds in my banker's hands for
all necessary outlay, and that by the next post, perhaps,
my long- wished- for letter might arrive.

*' And if it should not ?" interposed he, smiling.

♦* Why then the next day "

" And if not then," continued he, with a half-quizzing
look at my embarassment.

" Then your five thousand francs shall tremble for it."

" That's a hearty fellow !" cried he, grasping my hand
in both of his. "And now I feel I was not deceived in you.
My first meeting with Metternich was very like this. I
was at Presburg in the year 1804, just before the campaign
of Austerlitz opened "

" You are indeed most gallant, messieurs," said the
countess, opening the door, and peejiing in. "Am I to
suppose that cigars and maraschino are better company
than mine ?"

We rose at once to make our excuses; and thus I lost
the story of Prince Metternich, in which I already felt an
uncommon interest, from the similaritv of the adventure


to my own, though whether I was to represent the prince
or the count I could not even guess.

I was soon seated beside the countess in the luxurious
britzka ; the count took his place on the box, and away
we rattled over tlie stones through the Porte de Namur,
and along the pretty suburbs of Etterbech, where we left
the high road, and entered the Bois de Cambre by that
long and beautiful allee which runs on for miles, like some
vast aisle in a Gothic cathedral — the branches above
bending into an arched roof, and the tall beech stems
standing like the pillars.

The pleasant odour of the forest, the tempered light,
the noiseless roll of the carriage, gave a sense of luxury to
the drive I can remember vividly to this hour. Not that
my enjoyment of such was my only one ; far from it. The
pretty countess talked away about everything that came
uppermost, in that strain of spirited and lively chit-chat
that needs not the sweetest voice and the most fascinating
look to make it most captivating. I felt like one in a
dream ; the whole thing was fairy land ; and whether I
looked into the depths of the leafy wood, where some
horsemen might now and then be seen to pass at a gallop,
or my eyes fell upon that small and faultless foot that
rested on the velvet cushion in the carriage, I could not
trust the reality of the scene, and could only mutter to
myself — "What hast thou ever done, Arthur O'Leary, or
thy father before thee, to deserve happiness like this ? "

Dear and kind reader, it may be your fortune to visit
Brussels ; and although not exactly under such circum-
stances as I have mentioned here, let me advise you, even
without a beautiful Polonaise for your companion, to make
a trip to Boitsfort, a small village in the wood of Soignies.
Of cuurse your nationality will lead you to Waterloo; and
equally of course, if you have any tact — which far be it from
me not to suppose you gifted with — you'll not dine there,
the little miserable cabarets that are called " i-estaurants "
being wretched beyond description ; you may have a glass
of wine, and if so, take champagne, for they cannot adul-
terate it, but don't venture on a dinner, if you hope to
enjoy one again for a week after. Well then, " having
done your Waterloo," as the cockneys say, seen Sergeant


Cotton and the church, La Haye Sainte, Hougoumont,
and Lord Anglesey's boot, take your road back, not by
that eternal and noisy chaussee you have come by, but
turn off to the right, as if going to Wavre, and enter the
forest by an earth road, where you'll neither meet wagons,
nor postilions, nor even a " 'pike." Your coachman will
say, " Where to ?" Reply " Boitsfort," — which, for safety,
pronounce " Boshfort," — and lie back and enjoy yourself.
About six miles of a delightful drive, all through forest,
will bring you to a small village beside a little lake,
surrounded by hills, not mountains, but still waving and
broken in outline, and shaded with wood. The red-tiled
roofs, the pointed gables, the green jalousies, aud the
background of dark foliage, will all remind you of one
of Berghem's pictures, and if a lazy Fleming or so are seen
lounging over the little parapet next the water, they'll not
injure the effect. Passing over the little bridge, you
arrive in front of a long, low, two-storied house, perforated
by an arched door-way leading into the court ; over the
door is an inscription, which at once denotes the object of
the establishment, and you read — " Monsieur Duhus fait
noces et fesiins"* Not that the worthy individual offi-
ciates in any capacity resembling the famed Vulcan of
the North ; as far be it from him to invade the prerogative
of others, as for any to rival him in his own peculiar walk.
No ; Monsieur D.'s functions are limited to those delicate
devices which are deemed the suitable diet of newly-
married couples — those petits plats which are, like the
orange-flower, only to be employed on great occasions.
And as such he is unrivalled ; for notwithstanding the
simple and unpretending exterior, this little rural tavern
can boast the most perfect cook, aud the best-stored cellar.
Here may be found the earliest turkey of the year, with
a dowry of truffles ; here, the first peas of spring, the
newest strawberries, and the richest cream, iced Cham-
pagne and grapy Hermitage, Steinberger and Johannis-
berg, are all at your orders. Tou may dine in the long
salon, en cabinet, in the garden, or in the summer-house
over the lake, where the carp is flapping his tail in the

• il. Dubos provides wedding breakfasts and other entertainments.


clear water, the twin-brother of him at table ; the gnrdcn
beneath sends up its delicious odours from beds of every
brilliant hue ; the sheep are moving homeward along the
distant hills to the tinkle of the faint bell ; the plash of
an oar disturbs the calm water as the fisherman skims
along the lake, and the subdued murmurs of the little
village all come floating in the air — pleasant sounds, and
full of home thoughts. Well, well ; to be sure I am a
bachelor, and know nothing of such mattei's ; but it strikes
me I should like to be married now and then, and go eat
my wedding-dinners at Boitsfort !

And, now once more, let me come back to my narra-
tive ; for leaving which 1 should ask your pardon, were it
uot that the digression is the best part of the whole, and
I should never forgive myself if 1 had not told you not to
Btop at Brussels without dining at Boitsfort.

When we reached Boitsfort, a waiter conducted us at
once to a little table in the garden where the strawberries
and the iced champagne were in waiting. Here and there,
at some distance, were parties of the Brussels bourgeoisie
enjoying themselves at their coffee, or with ice ; while a
large salon that occupied one wing of the building was
given up to some English travellers, whose loud speech and
boisterous merriment bespoke them of that class one is
always ashamed to meet with out of England.

" Your countrymen are very merry yonder," said the
countess, as a more uproarious bui'st than ever broke from
the party.

" Yes," said the count, perceiving that I felt uncom-
fortable at the allusion : " Englishmen always carry London
about with them wherever they go. Meet them in the
Caucasus, and you'll find that they'll have some imitation
of a Blackwall dinner, or a Greenwich party."

" How comes it," said I, amazed at the observation,
•' that 3'ou know these places you mention ? "

" Oh, my dear sir, 1 liave been very much about the
world in my time, and have always made it my business
to see each people in their own peculiar havmts. If at
Vienna, I dine not at the ' Wilde Man,' but at the ' Fuchs '
in the Leopoldstadt. If in Dresden. I spend my evening
in the Griiu-Garteu, beyond the Elbe. The bourgeoisie

^ A DILEMMA. 145

alone, of any nation, preserved traits marked enough for a
stranger's appreciation : the higher clssses are pretty much
alike everywhere, and the nationality of the peasant takes
a narrow range, and offers little to amuse "

"And the count is a quick observer," remarked madame,
with a look of pleasure sparkling in her eyes.

"I flatter myself," rejoined he, "I seldom err in my
guesses — 1 knew my finend here tolerably accurately with-
out an introduction."

There was something so kind in the tone he spoke in,
I could have no doul)t of his desire to compliment me.

" Independently, too, of speaking most of the languages
of Europe, I possess a kind of knack for learning a patois,"
continued he. "At tin's instant, I'll wager a cigar with
you, I'll join that little knot of sober Belgians yonder,
and by the magic of a few words of genuine Brussels
Prench, I'll pass muster as a Boss."

The countess laughed heartily at the thought, and I
joined in her mirth most readily.

" I take the wnger," cried I, " and hope sincerely to
lose it."

" Done," said he, springing up and putting on his hat,
while he made a short circuit in the garden, and soon
afterwards appeared at the table with the Flemings, ask-
ing permission, as it seemed, to light a cigar from a lantern
attacht'd to the tree under which they sat.

If we were to judge from the merriment of the little
group, his success was perfect, and we soon saw him
seated amongst them, busily occupied in concocting a
bowl of flaming "ponche," of which it was clear by his
manner he had invited the party to partake.

" Now Gustav is in his delight," said the countess, in a
tone of almost pique; "he is a strange creature, and
never satisfied if not doing something other people never
think of. In half an hour he'll be back here, with the
whole history of Mynheer van Houd'^ndrochun and his
wife, and their fourteen ' mannikins ;' all their little
absurdities and prejudices he'll catch them up, and for a
week to come we shall hear nothing but Flemish French,
and the habitudes of the Montagne de la Cour."

For a few seconds I was vastly uncomfortable ; a


thought glanced across me — what if it were for some
absurd feature in me, in mii manner, or my conversation,
that he had deigned to make my acquaintance ? Then
came the recollection of his generous proposal, and I sa*v
at once that I was putting a somewhat high price on my
originality, if I valued it at five thousand francs.

" What ails you ?" said the countess, in a low soft voice,
as she lifted her eyes, and let them fall upon me with a
most bewitching expression of interest. " I fear you are
ill, or in low spirits."

I endeavoured to rally and reply, when she went on.

" We must see you ofteuer. Gustav is so pleasant and
so gay, he will be of gi-eat use to you. When he really
takes a liking, he is delightful ; and he has in your case,
I assure you."

I knew not what to say, nor how look my gratitude for
such a speech, and could only accomplish some few and
broken words of thanks.

" Besides, you are about to be a traveller," continued
she ; " and who can give you such valuable information
of every country and people as the count ? Do you in-
tend to make a long absence from England ?"

" Yes, at least some years. I wish to visit the East."

''You'll go into Poland?" said she, quickly, without
noticing my reply.

" Yes, I trust so ; Hungary and Poland have both
great interest for me."

" You know that we are Poles, don't you ?"

" Yes."

" We are both from beyond Varsovie. Gustav was
there ten years ago. I have never seen my native coun-
try since I was a child."

At the last words her voice dropped to a whisper, and
she leaned her head upon her hand, and seemed lost in

I did not dare break in upon the current of recollec-
tions I saw were crowding upon her, and was silent. She
looked up at length, and by the faint light of the moon,
just risen, I saw that her eyes were tearful, and her cheeks
still wet with weeping.

What, f-aid 1 to myself, and has sorrow come even here



— here, where I imagined if ever the sunny path of life
existed, it was to be found?

" Should you like to hear a sad story ?" said she, smil-
ing faintly, with a look of indefinable sweetness.

" If it were yours, it would make my heart ache," said
I, car.-icd away by my feelings at the instant.

" I'll 1^11 it to you one of dnys, tlicn — not now —
not now though — I conld not here — and there comes
Gustav — how he laughs ! "

And true enough, the merry sounds of his voice were
heard through the garden as he approached ; and strangely
too, they seemed to grate and jar upon my ear, with a very
different impression from what before they brought to me.

Our way back to Brussels led again through the forest,
which now was wrapped in the shade, save whei'e the
moon came peeping down through the leafy branches, and
falling in laright patches on the road beneath. The
countess spoke a little at first, but gradually relapsed
into perfect silence. The stillness and calm about seemed
only the more striking from the hollow tramp of the
horses, as they moved along the even turf The air wa.i
mild and sweet, and loaded with that peculiar fragrance
which a wood exhales after nightfall ; and all the influ-
ences of the time and place were of that soothing, lulling
kind that wraps the mind in a state of dreamy reverie.
But one thought dwelt within me. It was of her who
Bat beside me, her head cast down, and her arms folded.
She was unhappy — some secret sorrow was preying upon
that fair bosom — some eating care corroding her very
heart. A vague, shadowy suspicion shot through me, that
her husband might have treated her cruelly and ill ; but
why suspect such — was not everything I witnessed the
very reverse of such a fact ? What could surpass the
mutual kindliness and good feeling that I saw between
them ! and yet their dispositions were not at all alike — she
seemed to hint as much. The very waywardness of his
temperament: — the incessant demand of his spirit for
change, excitement, and occupation — how could it har-

Online LibraryCharles James LeverThe adventures of Arthur O'Leary → online text (page 13 of 40)